The New York State Office of Mental Health and Governor Andrew Cuomo are again pursuing a plan to close the Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center and move patients into the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. Once again, state legislators representing Buffalo-area districts vow to unite and fight the plan.
Members of the Western New York State Legislature Delegation joined at least two dozen community and labor activists to denounce plans to close the West Seneca-based facility. State Senator Patrick Gallivan says he and his peers recently learned of plans by the Cuomo Administration to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the site, while the young patients move into Buffalo.
"We have children here as young as four and we're going to send them to a place where we have Level 3 sex offenders," said State Senator Robert Ortt, who chairs the Senate's Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. "That only isn't stupid, it's reckless. It's dangerous."
Assemblyman Michael Kearns stated that the delegation's research determined six Level 3 sex offenders are admitted at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
Lawmakers also argue that experts, as far back as the 1960s, have urged keeping adult and young mental health patients separated. State Senator Patrick Gallivan suggested that by providing kids with their own center, one in a more serene setting without the barred windows and armed guards of an adult-oriented facility, families have a greater feeling of hope. It shows, he said, in the West Seneca facility's record.
"The center here has the best outcomes in the state, the lowest re-institutionalization rate in the state," Gallivan said.
The State Office of Mental Health first pursued a merger in 2014, but local lawmakers say they were able to block the move with a united front. They rallied together to stop it again in 2015 and vow they will do the same when legislators return to Albany to begin state budget negotiations.
Community activists say they're frustrated by the governor's disregard for the community's input. David Chudy, who coordinates the Save Our Western New York Children's Psychiatric Center group, also took aim at Mental Health Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan for moving ahead with merger plans.
"I don't know why in the world she keeps trying to close this place," Chudy said. "It's the best facility in the state, one of the best in this country. Are you kidding me? It's got to be the arrogance of power."
The state lawmakers were joined by two of their future peers. Assemblyman-Elect Angelo Morinello and Senator-Elect Chris Jacobs stood with the legislators but did not speak.
West Seneca Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan and Town Board member Eugene Hart also stood with the state delegation and community activists. Meegan expressed hope that this would be the last time people would have to unite in opposition to the proposed merger.
"It's a wake-up call, Governor," Meegan said. "We're calling you today. We're asking you to do the right thing."